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The nonprofit Reston Strong set up tents outside the Hunter Mill District office to call for action on homelessness (via Reston Strong)

Fairfax County is looking for more ways to bring more people into supportive and permanent housing beyond what some consider the band-aid approach to tackling homelessness — temporary shelters.

At a meeting yesterday (Tuesday), the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors unanimously moved a board matter directing staff to complete a comprehensive evaluation of ways to boost supportive housing, the evaluation of current options, and protocol for emergency shelter in commercial and industrial districts.

The matter was jointly collaborated on by Chairman Jeff McKay and supervisors John Foust, Walter Alcorn, Rodney Lusk, and Dalia Palchik. Foust led the motion.

Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross cautioned the board to consider that policy changes can only go so far in implementing goals.

“We really need to make sure we recognize that policies can only be so good as the people who are actually trying to implement them too,” Gross said. 

Foust acknowledged that the county’s work relies heavily on support for external partners and nonprofit organizations. He also noted that the policy directive encourages county staff to examine resources overall.

“So much of what we do in that arena is through the nonprofits and we need to look at that specifically,” Foust said.

There are currently 1,191 people experiencing homelessness in Fairfax County, per a Point in Time count calculated by the county. 282 adults are experiencing chronic homelessness, and 50% of those counted identified as Black or African American, even though that demographic makes up just 10% of the county’s general population.

The board matter specifically delves into the county’s Quarantine, Protection, Isolation/Decompression (QPID) hotels program, which was created to provide emergency shelter during the COVID-19 pandemic. The program was run in addition to the county’s hypothermia program, which operates every winter.

This year, the end of both programs raised red flags about the chronic issues of lack of emergency shelter and permanent housing. QPID ended in March.

While supportive options are available in the county, many find themselves unsheltered until a shelter bed or housing becomes available, the board matter said:

Given the shortage of shelter beds and housing, individuals may be unsheltered and unhoused between hypothermia prevention seasons. These individuals can wind up sleeping in cars, at bus shelters, in tents in the woods, and in other outdoor places. They often sleep near the County’s homeless shelters so they can access services such as meals, bathrooms and showering, laundry, and outreach/case worker assistance.

The nonprofit group Reston Strong brought awareness about lack of housing for people experiencing homelessness and the need for emergency shelters through a tents campaign called Neighbors in Tents.

The county has been working on the issue for years. In April, Alcorn directed the Office to Prevent and End Homelessness to review the county’s current operational performance in its effort to prevent and end homelessness.

The latest board matter directs staff to do the following:

Evaluate the successes and challenges experienced with QPID, including costs, operations, and results, and including how QPID compares with the success of the County’s established use of hotel rooms as temporary shelter for qualifying unhoused families.

Identify site-specific options for the development of more permanent supportive housing, with a focus on creative solutions for the long-term housing and service needs of the homeless population.

Review current zoning requirements and allowances for emergency shelter in commercial and
industrial districts where vacant and underutilized properties might be used by private entities to provide sheltering and transitional services to the homeless population and include this issue as a possible addition to the Zoning Ordinance work program for the Board’s consideration.

Provide an analysis of other available options that are not currently being used to address
homelessness in the County, including costs and benefits of each, and provide recommendations for the Board’s consideration. This analysis should include a review of successful efforts that have been implemented in other jurisdictions.

Ensure that the county’s partners in addressing homelessness have an opportunity to provide input to staff regarding matters addressed herein, including the operational review requested in the April 12 board matter.

Staff will present findings and recommendations at the board’s housing committee meeting on Nov. 22.

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Rendering shows the new four-story Patrick Henry permanent supportive housing facility in Seven Corners (via Fairfax County)

Fairfax County’s Board of Supervisors agreed Tuesday (May 10) to allow time for a homeless shelter replacement proposal to come to fruition, extending a review period to Aug. 10.

The capital project will transform the 9,500-square-foot Patrick Henry Family Shelter in Seven Corners to a new 24,000-square-foot permanent supportive housing facility with 16 units and a multipurpose room.

The extension of the 2232 review, which is required for proposed public facility projects, will give the county more time to acquire land rights needed for construction, according to Department of Public Works and Environmental Services spokesperson Sharon North.

“This complex land acquisition is necessary to receive all zoning and permitting approvals for the project,” North said. “As a result, the project schedule has been extended beyond what was originally anticipated.”

The building at 3080 Patrick Henry Drive is part of the Hollybrooke II Condominium complex, which was originally built as apartments in 1952. The county bought the building in 1985 and converted its 10 units into emergency housing shelter.

The units were expanded into the current shelter in 1996 and 2006.

Per a March application on the new project:

The existing structure is in poor condition, not code compliant, has multiple accessibility barriers and does not meet the program change to permanent supportive housing units. There is a critical lack of permanent supportive housing to serve the County’s homeless population. Studies show that no other method is proven more effective than supportive housing for ending chronic homelessness.

The new facility will be four stories and have five 2-bedroom units, eight 3-bedroom units, and three 4-bedroom units to continue serving large families experiencing homelessness.

While the Board of Supervisors owns the existing building, which will be demolished, the surrounding land and parking areas are controlled by the Hollybrooke II Condominium Association.

“For that reason, the [board] must obtain land rights in order to commence construction of the project,” North said. “With final approvals and purchase, the separation and ownership will transfer to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.”

The project is currently being reviewed by the county’s land development and planning staff. North says approvals from both departments are expected to come late this year.

Voters approved $48 million in bond money for the project and three other shelters in 2016. Those include the Embry Rucker Shelter in Reston, a joint fire station and Eleanor Kennedy Shelter relocation project in Penn Daw, and the Bailey’s Crossroads facility that opened in 2019.

The county has been working to increase its permanent housing assistance, making 1,645 beds available this year — a 12% increase from last year, according to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments’ annual Point-in-Time count released May 4.

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Bailey’s Shelter and Supporting Housing (via Fairfax County)

Fairfax County saw a slight drop with its annual January count of people experiencing homelessness, reversing a yearslong trend.

Released yesterday (Tuesday), the 2022 count recorded 1,191 individuals experiencing homelessness in the county, including those using shelters. Nearly one in four were chronically homeless, and over a quarter was under the age of 18, an increase from last year.

“This is a decrease of 3 percent (31 people) from the 2021 Point-in-Time Count, in which there were 1,222 people identified as experiencing homelessness,” the county’s Office to Prevent and End Homelessness says on its website.

The homelessness reporting metric last dropped in January 2017 with a count of 964 people. Since then, the number has been increasing steadily, jumping from 1,041 in 2020 to 1,222 people last year.

Per the county, homelessness has disproportionately affected Black people:

The most significant disparity in the demographics of those experiencing homelessness on the night of the 2022 Point-in-Time Count is the disproportionate representation of people identifying as Black or African American. Although only 10% of the general population in Fairfax County identifies as Black or African American, 50 percent of the people experiencing homelessness on the night of the 2022 Point-in-Time Count identified as Black or African American. This imbalance has not improved over time.

Daytime drop-in homeless services provider The Lamb Center and affordable housing developer Wesley Housing are seeking to further help prevent homelessness by redeveloping Fairfax City’s Hy-Way Motel site (9640 Fairfax Blvd.) into a five-story building with 54 studio apartments, according to a news release.

“It’s good to see homelessness in the county trending down, but the long-term solution is supportive housing,” Lamb Center Executive Director Tara Ruszkowski said in a statement.

The project, which would have offices on the ground floor, would serve residents at or below 30% of the Area Median Income — currently $29,910 for a single person.

Photo via Fairfax County

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Dozens of people will rappel down the Hilton in Crystal City for charity (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Later this afternoon (Thursday), Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay will descend by rope down a 14-story hotel in Arlington County.

McKay is among over 70 volunteers and VIPs participating in a charity rappeling event at the Hilton (2399 Richmond Highway) in Crystal City to raise money for New Hope Housing, a Northern Virginia nonprofit that provides assistance for people experiencing homelessness.

The event will unfold over two days, with elected officials and other VIPs rappeling down starting at 4 p.m. today. Arlington County Board member Matt de Ferranti has also been confirmed as a participant.

Donors from the general public will rappel down the hotel from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. tomorrow (Friday). Food, drinks, music, and vendor booths will be available at a “Landing Zone” for those who want to watch.

In a media advisory from his office, McKay highlighted Fairfax County’s recent efforts to prioritize affordable housing, including its recently doubled goal to build 10,000 new units in 12 years and the Dominion Square West project in Tysons that announced full construction funding on Tuesday (May 3):

Access to affordable housing is a signature issue in Fairfax County and the region, and is my personal focus. We have seen, especially over the last two years, the tremendous struggle that comes from the lack of access to affordable housing. During my time as Chairman, I have worked nonstop to direct Fairfax County’s efforts to build at least 10,000 affordable units over the next 12 years, including more than 500 just announced in the heart of Tysons, and this is only the beginning. Affordable housing leads directly to jobs and leads directly to a significant enhancement to the quality of life and community for everyone.

This is why I am glad to be at this event today to help promote this vital cause and the great work New Hope Housing and all our non-profits do to alleviate this crisis — even if it means rappelling off a building! The more attention and effort we can bring to this critical issue of inequity, the more we can build the needed coalitions between the public, private, and non-profit sectors to give everyone the dignity of a safe, secure, and affordable home.

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The former Hybla Valley Nursery will be replaced by a fire station and homeless shelter project (staff photo by David Taube)

Fairfax County staff are moving ahead with a project to relocate the Penn Daw fire station and Fort Belvoir’s Eleanor Kennedy Shelter.

The combined project, which stirred some controversy at community meetings last year, looks to provide temporary and permanent housing for those in need.

The new facilities will be built on the site of the former Hybla Valley Nursery (2801 Beacon Hill Road), which the county bought for $3 million in 2020, meaning the existing fire station would move one block south.

“[W]e are currently in the process of contract negotiations with an architectural firm, so concepts have not been drafted yet,” Fairfax County public works spokesperson Sharon North said in an email Tuesday (April 5). “We are currently planning for zoning approvals in Spring 2023 and permit approvals in Spring 2024.”

Construction could start in late summer 2024 and be complete at the end of 2026, county staff said.

The project is being funded by approved bond money, including $10 million from a public safety bond in 2015. A total of $15.4 million has been set aside for the fire station, according to the county’s proposed fiscal year 2023 budget. A 2016 approved bond included $12 million for the Eleanor Kennedy shelter.

The county has said the new shelter will have 50 emergency shelter beds and 20 single-occupant permanent supportive housing units. The new fire station will accommodate 23 staff.

The planned facilities reflect the county’s push for more robust development along the Richmond Highway corridor, including in the Penn Daw Community Business Center. In February, the county board approved a private housing development by Shields Avenue to the north, and the branding for a planned bus rapid transit service was unveiled.

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Encampment set up by people experiencing homelessness (via MWCOG)

Work is underway to understand the state of homelessness in Fairfax County.

The county conducted its annual Point-in-Time Count this past January, where public and nonprofit workers travel to shelters, transitional housing, and other sites to document the number of people experiencing homelessness on one night.

“We’re analyzing the results, and we’ll be publishing the results along with the other D.C. region communities in May,” Tom Barnett, the deputy director of the county’s Office to Prevent and End Homelessness, told FFXnow.

Barnett says there won’t be a way to determine whether homelessness increased or decreased for the area until the report is finalized. The Metropolitan Washington Coalition of Governments will release the report.

Last year, Fairfax County was one of only two localities in the D.C. area to report an increase in people experiencing homelessness. Its numbers increased from 2017 to 2021 by 27%, or 1,222 individuals.

According to a presentation to the county’s Advisory Social Services Board on March 16, the age group most affected by homelessness last year was children and teenagers:

  • 24% of people experiencing homelessness were under the age of 18
  • 7% were 18 to 24-year-olds
  • 16% were 25 to 34-year-olds
  • 15% were 35 to 44-year-olds
  • 15% were 45 to 54-year-olds
  • 12% were 55 to 61-year-olds
  • 11% were 62 and older

County staff also reported that 51% of those affected locally were Black, and 37% were white. Most were male, and 327 people were chronically homeless.

Fairfax County has been using federal stimulus funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act of 2020 and American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 to support its efforts to address homelessness during the pandemic.

One example from those funds includes money to provide 169 emergency housing vouchers to people so they can rent apartments in Fairfax County.

“That’s going to be make a huge positive impact in our homelessness numbers,” Barnett said.

In March, the county also announced it was receiving $10 million in federal Continuum of Care funding to provide homeless housing and services. Most of the money will be used to expand programming at the nonprofit Shelter House.

“Our community received a significant increase this year,” Barnett said, noting that it represents a 9% uptick from last year’s funding. “That money is going to help survivors of domestic violence who are experiencing homelessness find new housing.”

The county also created a Continuum of Care Committee last year to assess its strategies around addressing homelessness.

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The organization set up several tents outside county offices (via Reston Strong)

A familiar sight of tents returned to Reston Monday night (April 4), as a local advocacy organization seeks to raise awareness about homelessness and the lack of affordable housing alternatives in the area.

Right outside Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn’s office, Reston Strong set up tents to push officials to find solutions to homelessness. The campaign, coined Neighbors in Tents, launched formally in February.

The awareness campaign was timed to coincide with the closure of the county’s hypothermia shelters, which ran from Dec. 1 through March 31 this past winter.

“That means hundreds of people are back out on the street with no place to stay,” the organization’s state and policy director Mary Barthelson said. “Reston Strong volunteers have set up tents outside of Supervisor Alcorn’s office and are standing guard until a solution is found.”

In a statement, Alcorn noted that the end of the hypothermia program has been a challenge over the past decade and was exacerbated this year with the end of a two-year program to shelter people experiencing homelessness in hotels that was prompted by the pandemic.

Alcorn said he was unsuccessful in pushing the program into the spring due to a lack of trained staff to manage the program.

Still, the county was able to house 2,000 residents over two years and place 745 residents from hotel rooms into permanent housing, subsidized housing, and other housing options.

“While the hoteling and other ‘band aid’ solutions are important, it is imperative for all to understand that the underlying challenge is a severe lack of affordable housing, not just for the chronically homeless and other residents sheltering in tents but also for our essential workers,” Alcorn wrote in a statement.

While supportive of Reston Strong’s “right to direct political action,” Alcorn said he was against the organization’s efforts to create a new tent city “with the biohazards and assaults experience by the community several years ago.”

With the passage of time, this has proved counterproductive in our collective efforts to fund, site, and build permanent affordable housing, he stated.

“We need to move forward with a badly needed new homeless shelter, permanent supportive housing, and affordable housing for working families,” Alcorn said.

The Office to Prevent and End Homelessness, which is part of the Fairfax County Department of Housing and Community Development, says it is committed to pursuing sustainable solutions to eradicate homelessness.

Ben Boxer, the department’s spokesperson, noted that all of the county’s shelters are currently open.

“At these locations, individuals may obtain food, showers, laundry, counseling, and other assistance to help them meet their basic needs. We are also working with each individual at these locations to create housing plans based on their individual preferences and needs,” Boxer siad.

Alcorn said the bathroom of the Embry Rucker Community Shelter in Reston is available around-the-clock for use.

Reston Strong set up around 100 tents in February on Reston Parkway to raise awareness about homelessness in the community.

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Morning Notes

Outside the City of Fairfax Regional Library (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

County Lands $10M to Address Homelessness — Fairfax County will get $10 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to support services for people experiencing homelessness. The money will fully fund 19 projects and represents a 9% increase from last year’s award, mostly for a domestic violence rapid rehousing program run by the nonprofit Shelter House. [Housing and Community Development]

FCPS to Provide Free Online Tutoring — “Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand said unlimited tutoring in any subject for every grade level will be available through a new partnership with Tutor.com. The rollout will begin after spring break.” [WTOP]

Utility Work Requires W&OD Trail Detour in Reston — Washington & Old Dominion Trail users are being detoured to a gravel path this week so that AT&T can relocate a utility line in preparation for the construction of the planned pedestrian bridge over Wiehle Avenue. The work began on Monday (March 21) and could last up to a week. [Fairfax Alliance for Better Bicycling]

Vienna Town Council Eases Rules for Residential Porches — “Home improvement just got easier in Vienna. Homeowners with homes built near the front setback line can now construct a covered front porch on their property thanks to last night’s Town Council vote on a zoning code update.” [Town of Vienna/Twitter]

Paved Trail in Burke Completed — “Burke residents joined Fairfax County officials on Sunday to celebrate the completion of the Burke Centre VRE Trail Project, a new paved path that will provide pedestrians and bicyclists with easier access to the Virginia Railway Express station.” [Patch]

Afghan Refugee Graduates from FCPS — “Mountain View High graduate Eltaf Samim traversed six countries, completed seventh, eighth and ninth grade multiple times in different nations and turned in coursework in three languages on the way to get his high school diploma in Fairfax County this year.” [FCPS/Inside NoVA]

Wolf Trap National Park Adds More Summer Performances — “Newly added shows include Van Morrison, Boyz II Men, Tom Jones, Boy George & Culture Club, Kool & the Gang and more. Closing the season will be a community singing celebration called Joyfully Together on Sept. 18.” [Patch]

Reston Museum Seeks Volunteers — “Reston Museum seeks volunteer docents for flexible shifts Tues-Sun 11-4 pm. Docents greet visitors, introduce them to the museum and Reston’s history and assist with shop sales. Training provided, register here.” [Volunteer Fairfax/Twitter]

It’s Wednesday — Rain starting in the afternoon. High of 60 and low of 43. Sunrise at 7:08 a.m. and sunset at 7:25 p.m. [Weather.gov]

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Inova Health Care Services is moving forward with the demolition of the former Cameron Glen Care Center, a 150-bed nursing and rehabilitation facility that shuttered in 2014.

The demolition — which is slated to happen as soon as possible — would pave the way for the site’s incorporation into Reston Town Center North, a 47-acre area in the heart of Reston’s urban core slated for redevelopment.

But housing advocates want the site to be repurposed for transitional housing that they say is a dire need.

Advocates are calling on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and Inova to consider undertaking a feasibility study to determine if the building can serve as temporary transitional housing.

Recently, an effort to house people suffering from mental health and addiction issues in the vacated building picked up steam.

Reston Strong, a volunteer-run community group that has been raising awareness about homelessness and housing affordability in the area, launched an online petition on Tuesday (March 1) to pursue the study prior to demolition. The organization says hundreds of unsheltered neighbors have no place to go and some are living in tents in the area.

“Given the desperate need for housing — pursuing creative solutions and partnerships is critical. Completing a feasibility study is merely conducting the due diligence needed to combat the current tragic state of affairs with 100s waiting unsheltered,” the petition states.

Inova is currently working with the county to proceed with the demolition. As of last year, the project team received preliminary approval from Reston Association’s Design Review Board for a proposal for the mixed use project.

The area is slated to become an urban mixed-use environment that the county hopes will transition from Reston Town Center to surrounding development.

A mix of uses are planned, including office, residential and retail. Existing county facilities would also see a major shift, including the Reston Regional Library, the Embry Rucker Shelter and Support Housing, and the North County Human Services Building.

“Inova’s plan to demolish the building is a substantial step in the direction of implementing that community vision,” Inova spokesperson Tracy Connell said in a statement to FFXnow.

Connell noted that most of the building’s utilities have been shut off, the elevators have been decommissioned, and the only water into the building is for the sprinkler system.

“Its worsening condition and safety concerns underscore the urgency for its demolition,” she said, adding that exposed wiring, major water damage, broken walls and windows, and evidence of black mold indicate the building is “extremely unsafe.”

Once the building is demolished, the site would become a new Central Park that will “anchor the redevelopment of the larger area in a mix of multiple civic and private uses,” Connell said.

The Fairfax County Park Authority conveyed a five-acre parcel to the county in 2015 in exchange for 90,000 square feet of development rights.

Submission of a revised zoning application is expected after amendments to the Reston Comprehensive Plan are considered by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. A task force assembled by Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn recently concluded work on its recommendations.

The nursing home relocated its Reston patients from Reston to Sterling’s Potomac Falls Rehab years ago.

Reston Strong notes that it could take even longer for the Reston Town Center North project to move forward. Last month, the organization launched a “Neighbors in Tents Initiative” to raise awareness about the growing problem of homelessness in Reston and the need for more affordable housing.

“INOVA has plans to demolish 1800 Cameron Glen in the near future and leave an empty, abandoned lot in its place for years or even decades,” the petition states.

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Individuals in Fairfax County’s annual Hypothermia Prevention Program enjoy a meal (courtesy FACETS)

Faith communities are once again opening their doors to Fairfax County’s homeless population this winter after a year-long hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The county’s Hypothermia Prevention Program, which began in 2005, will run from Nov. 28 through April.

As in past years, the service will be operated by FACETS, a nonprofit organization that helps individuals affected by poverty, hunger and homelessness. The program serves people in across the county and the City of Falls Church in partnership with the local government and more than 40 faith communities.

FACETS Executive Director Joe Fay notes that the move was inspired by faith partners who felt more comfortable opening their doors due to the state’s high vaccination levels.

“The pandemic continues to create greater need and complicates efforts to help meet those needs,” Fay acknowledged, adding that safety measures will remain in effect to protect staff, volunteers and guests.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced the county to adapt the program last year, as space limitations and the age of many volunteers made the churches and other buildings used in the past less viable.

The county instead set up its own sites and used hotels, which provided a good alternative to congregate settings because they allowed for social distancing, reducing transmission of the virus, Tom Barnett, the director of the county’s Office to Prevent and End Homelessness told FFXnow.

While most of us were told to stay home to avoid the virus, people experiencing homelessness did not have that option. Older adults and people with pre-existing health conditions were especially vulnerable,” Barnett said. “Fairfax County expanded shelter capacity with hotels through the pandemic to accommodate the increased demand for shelter.”

As the focus shifts back to congregate settings, nonprofit organizations have been able to hire more staff to sustain operations at their shelters.

Barnett says faith communities returning to the hypothermia prevention program is a “tremendous resource.”

After a brief dip to moderate transmission levels, COVID-19 cases appear to have returned to August levels. The county’s level of community transmission has returned to substantial.

Barnett noted that the program will attempt to increase social distancing, require masks for guests and staff, and increase the frequency of facility cleaning. Hotels will remain open through the winter in order to isolate, quarantine, and protect individuals and to reduce overcrowding in other shelters.

The program is open to any adult in need of immediate shelter.

Existing shelters that serve single adults and auxiliary programs through faith community partners run the program, which offers warm shelter, food, and other supportive services. FACETS will also offer case management for guests who wish to move into safe and stable housing.

The number of people who are homeless and unvaccinated remains a challenge, FACETS spokesperson Shawn Flaherty says. The organization plans to focus on vaccine availability and health education this year, especially as economic anxiety and food insecurity appear to be on the rise.

“The pandemic has created more economic strain which is impacting the county’s homeless population. Also, they struggle to get personal protective equipment, and it [has] been harder for them to connect with resources and basic needs,” Flaherty said.

COVID-19 vaccines will be available for all guests.

The organization plans to continue operating a shelter out of a hotel in Alexandria for individuals impacted by the pandemic.

Despite the constraints, the Hypothermia Prevention Program was able to serve an average of 215 guests per night last year.

Barnett does not expect increased demand this year due to the pandemic.

“We are confident that we have the resources and connections in place to serve our unsheltered neighbors this winter,” he said.

Photo courtesy FACETS

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